House

Pelosi asks panels to draft new COVID-19 relief measure

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has tasked her committee heads with drafting a Democratic package of emergency coronavirus relief, which could potentially be brought to the floor next week if Democrats fail to reach a bipartisan deal with the White House before then.

Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), head of the Ways and Means Committee, is leading the charge. He said the package is in the range of $2.2 trillion - representing the last figure Pelosi had offered the Republicans - and that it could receive a vote by Oct. 2, when the House is scheduled to recess for the elections.

"The contours are all there; I think it's about timeframe and all of that," Neal said Thursday just outside the Capitol.

"The Ways and Means Committee wrote most of it to begin with," he added. "So we're just going to revisit a lot of it."

Throughout the long impasse over the next round of emergency coronavirus aid, Pelosi has held firm to her demand for at least $2.2 trillion in new spending, warning that anything less would be insufficient to address the dire public health and economic problems around the country.

She's also resisted entreaties from a growing number of rank-and-file Democrats - most of them moderates - to commit to a vote on a partisan bill if the sides fail to reach a bipartisan agreement before Oct. 2. Such a vote would both pressure Senate Republicans to consider stimulus legislation before the elections, while providing a potent talking point to vulnerable House Democrats wary of returning home to face voters with nothing to show on coronavirus aid.

The Speaker's decision to craft a Democratic bill as a backstop is some acknowledgment of that growing outcry.

"I'd be very uncomfortable going home without sending more relief to my constituents, for small businesses or parents with children who are trying to go to school or state and local governments, the Post Office needs help, frontline workers need help," Rep. Madeline Dean (D-Pa.) told The Hill.

"I'd be very delighted if we can come to some sort of agreement for the American people," she said. "Let's hope it's not" just a partisan vote.

Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), head of the New Democrat Coalition, offered a similar message.

"I'm certainly hopeful there's a deal," he said. "But a lot of our members are eager to have the House move forward on something that can help our constituents."

Hours earlier, Pelosi told reporters that she's optimistic the talks with the White House negotiators will resume "soon," roughly seven weeks after they broke down over a disagreement on the size and scope of the package.

"I'm eager to hear what they have to say when they come," she said.

Pelosi later said she spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Wednesday, but there is no formal plan yet for renewing the in-person talks.

Neal said the shift in strategy was based largely on testimony from Jerome Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve, who has been warning Congress for months that a failure to deliver massive stimulus to counteract the devastating effects of the pandemic would risk damaging the economy for years to come.

Pelosi has cited Powell's warnings for as long as he's been making them. This week, she added new action to those words in crafting another stimulus bill without the Republicans.

"What prompted a lot of it for obvious reasons was the ongoing testimony from the head of the Federal Reserve Board, who reminded people that the Fed is a lending institution, not a spending institution. [And] you had the secretary of the Treasury again yesterday saying he agreed with that," Neal said.

"I mean, look we're heading toward a resurgence of the virus in the fall, and until we defeat the virus you're not going to have full economic recovery," he added. "That's what this is about."

Scott Wong contributed.

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